Part of the impact of the success of the original release of Star Wars was not just felt in the abundance of space adventures it inspired but also in a resurrection of the fantasy genre onscreen, where similar ‘chosen one defeats great evil’ tales abound. The Beastmaster, from 1982, was not massively popular at the time of release but television showings and home video gave it a second life. It was co-written and directed by Don Coscarelli as a follow-up to his classic horror Phantasm. Coscarelli had been as enamoured of fantasy stories and sword and sorcery flicks growing up as he had been with horror, and so it’s no real surprise that The Beastmaster is a film shot through with love for the genre.
Marc Singer plays Dar, a young man who will come to fulfil his destiny as hero in a fight against the evil, insane and power hungry high priest of the kingdom of Aruk, Maax (Rip Torn). Dar has unusual abilities, most prominently here that he can communicate with and command various animals. On his journey to his final encounter with Maax, Dar picks up a group of followers, both human and not, and there's plenty of action along the way. The film itself is huge fun, done totally straight and on a low budget, but with humour and wit and, thanks to Coscarelli, a healthy horror influence. There’s no way of hiding the cheapness of some of the effects but there’s also a surfeit of imagination involved in many of the sequences and it’s all grandly entertaining, despite being arguably a little too long overall.
The 55-minute making-of documentary on this Australian Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray release brings together a number of those involved in the film’s production to detail how it all came together. It’s a decent and enjoyable enough doc and alludes to some of the problems encountered (not least of which was Coscarelli being barred from the editing room of his own film), but despite all of this there’s a huge amount of affection from them all. There’s also a commentary from Coscarelli and co-writer/producer Paul Pepperman. As far as the picture, for the most part it’s a solid presentation. The Beastmaster takes place either in bright sunshine or pitch-black night, and both come out well here. It’s a scrappy film at times, and sometimes the low budget shows through (mostly in the unfortunate tiger painted black to be a ‘panther’) as occasional awkwardness but most of the time the high definition treatment is fine.
For fans of the film, this is easy to recommend without much in the way of reservation.
THE BEASTMASTER (1982) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DON COSCARELLI / SCREENPLAY: DON COSCARELLI, PAUL PEPPERMAN / STARRING: MARC SINGER, TANYA ROBERTS, RIP TORN, JOHN AMOS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (AUS)